How to deal with jerks in your family
Episode Summary and Links
It was a Monday at 6:32 PM when the Jonathans felt a certain tingle... a tingle that only a certified Jonathan can feel. A sense that some sort of AITA-related drama was brewing on a world wide web near us. And wouldn't you know it, our 7th sense did not fail us this time. In this week's podcast, we jump right into the following posts:
- AITA for telling my mom she violated my privacy for going through my suitcase?
- AITA for moving out of the apartment my parents bought for me after they made me let my brother live there.
- AITA for making my brother's vegan gf feel "alienated" at my engagement dinner?
Not only do we offer some of the world's greatest coaching to these original posters, but we also share some insight that we feel will change your life forever.
Let's do this!
It’s not my fault: How to deal with jerks in your family
Having trouble dealing with jerks in your family? If you’ve ever been in a situation where you’ve routinely had to declare “it’s not my fault” while someone you know insists that you are at fault, then strap in, because we’ve got some advice for you.
The problem with being not at fault—whether it’s with family members or people who impact your family from the outside—is that while it feels good to know you’re right, it doesn’t accomplish anything in particular. Feeling vindicated is nice, but learning how to deal with someone (and stop a recurring problem) is a whole different story.
Here are some things you can try when you’re not at fault for what’s happened.
Don’t let go of your emotions, but let them cool
The worst way to solve an argument with someone you know is to shout “It’s not my fault! It’s yours!” and leave them in the dust. Instead, hold onto the emotions you’re feeling, but let them cool before getting involved in an argument.
You’re allowed to have your feelings. You’re also allowed to let them run as strong and free as they need to while you sort those feelings out. But taking feelings out on another person doesn’t make you more right. Instead, it makes you partially culpable for the aftermath of a bad situation. Whatever you’re right about, shouting someone down is only going to make things worse.
If you’re dealing with a jerk in the family, take a deep breath, let yourself enter a state of calm, and then have a sit-down with them.
Make agreements, not boundaries
It’s easy to set boundaries. “Don’t use my dorm room for parties.” “Don’t have a hissy fit over not having vegan options at my engagement dinner.” “Don’t invade my privacy and unpack my clothes the night before I leave for a big trip.” (Yes, these are all examples from real people that were discussed in our podcast episode on this topic… which you should definitely listen to.)
But what do boundaries do, other than take up your time and energy? A boundary is like drawing a line in the sand and watching it all day to make sure nobody crosses it. Sure, you’ll tackle the first person who comes over the line, but you won’t be able to do anything else with your afternoon. Is it worth it?
Instead of boundaries, make agreements. “You can behave as you like, but I’m not going to be there for it.” “If you act this way, I’ll simply remove myself from the situation.” “You don’t have to change how you act, but I’m going to act differently as a result.”
Agreements are the new boundaries. They imply healthy reactions in response to the actions of others.
Put your foot down
When you’re not at fault for something, it’s important to put your foot down and make it clear where you stand about the situation. But don’t argue—instead, communicate. Tell whoever’s being a jerk that you need certain things to be happy, and those things are not happening.
In other words, your emotional needs are not being met, and things will have to change in order for that to happen. It’s as simple as that.
Talk in a place that’s not threatening
It might be tempting to confront a jerk in the family and shout “It’s not my fault” in the middle of whatever restaurant, bar or park you’re currently at. But, again, this is a bad idea.
If you’re actually looking for change, and not simply revenge, then you need to take the high road and talk in a non-threatening environment. Choose a neutral space where both you and the other person don’t have to worry about being interrupted or ambushed. Most of all, choose somewhere that you can talk in private. And of course, set up this meeting after things have calmed down a bit.
Setting up a neutral time and place helps establish trust and goodwill. It’s saying, “I want to give you the time and space you deserve to know how I feel, and I am going to try my best to hear you, too.” It doesn’t matter if the other person is totally wrong—at the very least, you should offer them the respect of a safe communication environment.
When it’s not your fault, don’t worry
Lots of things aren’t your fault in life. But that doesn’t mean you can necessarily avoid those things, and it also doesn’t mean you’re free from the responsibility of navigating situations where others are being less than reasonable.
If you need more tools to deal with situations where you’re not at fault, check out our podcast episode on this topic, or sign up for on-one-on journaling with a coach to talk more about your situation.